Whether the rest of the country wants to admit it or not, the SEC has survived early and notable non-conference losses. In fact, the league is front and center for Week 3 of the college football season.
The marquee game is Saturday afternoon in College Station, as No. 1 Alabama meets No. 6 Texas A&M and looks to avenge a loss in Tuscaloosa last year. And yes, CBS plans to have a camera on Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel at all times. More on this game in a moment, but consider this, too:
Even though Clemson beat Georgia in Week 1 and Miami knocked off the Florida Gators in Week 2, there are seven SEC teams in the Associated Press Top 25 this week. That’s half of the league. And 28 percent of the nation’s ranked teams.
The SEC list: 1. Alabama; 6. Texas A&M; 8. LSU; 9. Georgia; 13. South Carolina; 18. Florida; and 25. Ole Miss.
The Alabama-A&M game will go a long way toward deciding the SEC West title, or at least that’s the theory. Last year, Alabama ran the table all the way to its second straight national championship after the 29-24 loss to the Aggies.
Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy last season as a freshman, also set an SEC record for all-purpose yards (5,116).
“His ability to extend plays is difficult for a defense,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said in a bit of an understatement. But more troubling, Saban says, is that Manziel evolved last season. “He became a really good passer,” Saban said.
Ole Miss also travels to Texas, to play a Longhorn team in turmoil. Head coach Mack Brown removed defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replaced him with Greg Robinson after a 40-21 loss to BYU in which the Cougars rolled up 550 yards. Then, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds went public with a vote of confidence for the long-time Texas head coach, telling the Austin American-Statesman: “Mack’s fine. I know we didn’t play well Saturday. Mack will know if he should be coaching (at Texas) or shouldn’t be.”
The Rebels (2-0 and 1-0 in the SEC) can’t be sure how the Longhorns’ defense might change under the new coordinator.
“We’ll go in and be who we are,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “Certainly, it’s somewhat unsettling.”
Tennessee is off to a 2-0 start under first-year coach Butch Jones but has a major challenge at No. 2 Oregon, which has scored 125 points in two games. Even more telling: 15 of their 17 touchdown drives have lasted less than two minutes. “Fast” doesn’t begin to describe how they play, and it’s not just on offense, but defense and special teams, too.
“They’re a complete football team,” Jones said of the Ducks, now coached by Mark Helfrich, after Chip Kelly jumped to the Philadelphia Eagles. “They play fast, they play physical, they work on making you uncomfortable in all that they do. We can’t give them possessions, and we can’t turn the ball over.”